Airshow testing of the Nikon D750

Turns out, it's a fantastic camera...

Less than 24 hours after my shiny new D750 came in the post, it was time to put it through its paces.  For a rigorous test of what this camera could do, we headed off to the VE Day Anniversary Airshow at Duxford (IWM Duxford) in Cambridgeshire.  With portraits, action, low-light and candid photography all available, I had the perfect opportunity to test out a great range of features.

Initial thoughts

Two main things to remember when moving from DX to FX bodies - your nifty fifty doesn't have as much reach, and your depth of field is insanely shallow.  It took me a little while to remember these things on the fly, but it actually helped me slow down and take a little more care and attention to what I was doing.  Navigating the menus of the D750 was a breeze (as an existing Nikon shooter - Nikon Menu Screenshot via ephotozine.com) and I was able to set up things like redundant NEF image recording to the second card - very useful!  Carrying the body around with the 50mm f/1.8G attached was actually not too bad.  Yes it was pretty heavy, but the deep grip and improved ergonomics made it easy to carry the camera without squeezing too hard to keep a hold of it.  So, with the camera set up, and with me working out how I was going to switch from shooting people to planes back to people with just one or two button presses, I was ready to take some images.

People

Airshows featuring older warbirds are great for some portrait and candid photography.  This one had some amazing groups present, who seemed to take this recreation business seriously!  They were always willing to stop for a shot or look your way when they noticed you with your camera raised - much more relaxed than "regular" street photography.  The D750 rendered skin tones very nicely, and produced a pleasing bokeh when using an appropriate focal length and aperture.  The detail resolved by the D750/50mm combo was fantastic:

Tea break Tea break cropThe second image is cropped from the first - not only does it show the power of the megapixel (TM) but it also shows the level of detail you can get from portraits (when you get the focus right...).  You can see every mark, hair and texture on his face - portrait photographers may even need to use a bit of clarity reduction if using this body!

Crew

This shot served to remind me of the tiny depth of field with an FX body (f/5.6) - zoomed in 1:1 there is very little fully in focus and sharp because it drops off so rapidly.  I will need to get used to this.

Home front Downtime

As I said earlier, the colours reproduced by this camera are lovely, with natural looking skin tones and nice accurate representation of the colours.  Nothing looked washed out, even straight from the camera, and all the files were very easy to work with in Lightroom.  The 14-bit RAW records so much information, the D750 would be extremely forgiving to anyone getting the settings slightly wrong.

Briefing

Planes

All the images above were taken in the normal AF-S mode, with matrix metering and at ISO 100.  With the planes taking to the skies, I (easily) switched the settings to AF-C (9-point dynamic) and bumped the ISO to be able to get the shutter speeds I wanted.  I found myself flitting between manual and shutter priority depending on the aircraft in the air (Did I want prop blur?  Was I more focused on getting the image relatively sharp?), but everything else was kept relatively constant.

Biplane chase

My first few attempts with panning were in all honesty pretty awful...I was finding it tricky to get the prop blur (you need a shutter speed of around 1/250th, or less if you can manage it).  As I had switched to the 70-300mm this took the shutter speed below the "rule" of preventing motion blur (SS should be higher than focal length e.g. a focal length of 300mm needs a shutter speed of 1/300th or faster to avoid blur).  Another issue with the 70-300 - it's relatively cheap glass.  Cheap glass has more imperfections and lower quality optics.  A camera like the D750 shows these up.  Some of the shots I took were a little disappointing when I got them back home into the computer, especially regarding sharpness (and also colour to some extent).  May need to upgrade this sooner rather than later...!

Blurred bull Twinned bull

But, as the day went on my panning improved, and I started getting some interesting shots.  The Red Bull Matadors put on an amazing display, with one of the pilots being a Red Bull Air race champion (I forget his name, sorry!).  The top shot I liked a lot - plane left to right I followed with my focus, and the plane moving the other way is nicely blurred.  This shows the great AF system in the D750, it kept track of the subject I wanted without getting confused by another subject moving into frame.  Very impressed.

Catalina triptych

Towards the end of the show, it was time for the jets.  I bumped my shutter up into the 1/1000-1/2000th range so that I had a chance of getting these machines in focus!  Once again it was a good test of the AF system as these jets were moving so fast.  I also increase the ISO to 320, which for a camera like this was absolutely no problem, the files were still extremely clean.

Typhoon triptych

The Eurofighter highlighted one slight negative I found with using the D750 (or any FX camera to be fair).  As it is such a fast and loud jet, it flies further away from the crowd than other aircraft, and so you need a focal length more like a 400-500mm to fill the frame.  Yes, with the number of MP you could crop, but the image would be a better one if you could do this in camera with a longer lens.  Obviously, with a DX camera, a 300mm is perfect (I've used it at an airshow before), but I did feel a little inadequate taking these images...

The chase Red path Peel Dive Arrow Quintet Arrows Split Black Arrows

The show finished with the Red Arrows (as so many shows do), and once again the D750 managed to maintain focus and capture some interesting, contrasty images.  Not as sharp as I'd like (I was shooting at 1/2000th of a sec), but since using the camera more, it does seem to be the result of an unhappy marriage with the Nikon 70-300mm.

Final thoughts

I had a great time testing out my new Nikon D750 at the Duxford VE Day Airshow.  With so many different subjects, airshows are always a great place to practice your photography skills.  I really enjoyed using the D750 - it is sharp, fast, produces brilliant colours and contrast in images, and the details it produces are fantastic.  I did learn some lessons - it is much more unforgiving to bad technique than cameras I have owned in the past, it begs for great glass, and the depth of field drop-off is much more severe than I am used to.  I'll get used to these things over time as I use the D750 more and more (I have owned it for 3 weeks now), and I am looking forward to it...

Coming soon - I'll be doing a comparison between the Nikon D750 and a mirrorless camera; body, images, use-ability.